After the American election
Read the responses to the spiked debate.
spiked is kickstarting a major debate on the aftermath of the US election – exploring its impact in America and internationally, on everything from war and peace to science and environmentalism. This page will be updated with new contributions over the coming week – have your say by emailing Brendan O’Neill at Brendan.ONeill@spiked-online.com
Read the responses to the spiked debate:
- Frank Furedi
- Michael Fitzpatrick
- Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn
- Paul Campos
- John Brignell
- Phil Mullan
- Daniel Ben-Ami
- Sandy Starr
- Norman Levitt
- Andrew Calcutt
- James Woudhuysen
- Stuart Derbyshire
- Barry Schwartz
- James Harkin
- Helen Searls
- James Heartfield
- George Blecher
- Joe Kaplinsky
- Matt Ridley
- Peter Smith
- Julian Baggini
- Philip Hammond
- David Chandler
- Mischa Moselle
- Kevin Yuill
- Dominic Standish
- Vanessa Pupavac
- Jen Grygiel
- Ceri Dingle
- Frank Furedi
This was an election where you had to have your wits about you. Almost every ‘insight’ gained through the media’s presentation of reality proved to be wrong. The most disturbing feature of the election campaign was the way that the only issue appeared to be Bush – are you for or against him? With all the fire directed at Bush, very few questions were asked about alternatives.
In previous times, a statement such as ‘My name is John Kerry and I am here to report for duty’ would have been of interest only to collectors of self-caricatures. But few were prepared to look critically at the empty wasteland of Western politics. Bush became the all-purpose distraction for a complacent cultural elite that subsists on a diet of Michael Moore videos and regards the wearing of a ribbon as a sign of political bravery.
My predictions: the anti-Bush jokes will get worse; gesture politics will thrive; and despite the anti-modernist stance of both sides of the Culture War, expect even more hysterical debates about trivia. Conspiracy theories, of course, will continue to flourish.
Frank Furedi‘s most recent book is Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone?: Confronting Twenty-First Century Philistinism.
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- Michael Fitzpatrick
In his bestseller Stupid White Men, Michael Moore, tribune of the American radical left, claims that George W Bush is an alcoholic and advises him: ‘Get help. Join AA. Take your daughters to Al-Anon.’ This moralistic line illustrates the fact that, on key social issues, the most conservative outlook in US politics is to be found on what is generally regarded as its left wing. (A supporter of Ralph Nader in 2000, Moore – like many left-wingers and greens – refused to support his campaign in 2004, on the tactical grounds that it divided the anti-Bush vote.)
Right-wing Republicans are vehemently denounced by radicals for their links with Bible-belt fundamentalists. But the old-time religion of Bush and his supporters is less insidious than the modern religiosity of Alcoholics Anonymous, which Moore commends to the president (though, of course, AA is rooted in evangelical Christianity). The first two steps of AA’s notorious 12-step programme are the victim’s acceptance of powerlessness in the face of alcohol and his or her surrender to a supreme power – formerly the Deity, latterly the counsellor as proxy for the therapeutic state.
The Republican right is engaged in a continual struggle against the Enlightenment principles enshrined in the constitution and bill of rights, on issues such as the separation of church and state, free speech and civil liberties. Yet, whereas the right is instinctively inclined to coerce others – at home and abroad – the distinctive feature of the left is its drive to internalise coercion, through bans on hate speech and thought crimes, curbs on advertising so-called junk food, smoking in public and other healthy living initiatives. The feebleness and incoherence of John Kerry’s critique of Bush’s ‘war on terror’ suggests that a Democratic president would be no less militaristic and repressive in the pursuit of US foreign policy goals.
The death of Christopher Reeve during the campaign provided Democrats with a convenient focus for their attempt to brand the Republicans as anti-science for their equivocal record on stem-cell research. But, whereas the US right has pursued a highly pragmatic approach on this issue, balancing establishment interests in science and populist gestures to the anti-abortion lobby, a comprehensive, ideologically committed hostility towards scientific advance (around issues such as GM food) is to be found among the environmental activists around the Nader/Moore wing of US politics. Radical scaremongering about the dangers of global warming, pollution and epidemic disease suggest that the left has an even more bleak and fatalistic world view than that of the Bible-bashers with their message of ‘repent, the end is nigh’.
Bush’s victory is a defeat, not only for Kerry, but also for Nader and the remnants of the American left. This is to be welcomed because it marks a setback for the backward-looking and small-minded, illiberal and anti-democratic outlook that has come to define the radical rump. Nader may be anti-corporate, but only because he favours a petit-bourgeois fantasy of small-scale production protected by state regulation. The result was a forceful snub to the degenerate populism of Michael Moore, whose self-loathing is exceeded only by his contempt for the millions of American citizens who voted for Bush in the absence of any real alternative. Perhaps the message of the American electorate is that they would rather have a drinker in the White House than suffer a sanctimonious prig like Moore telling either them or their president how to conduct their personal lives.
Michael Fitzpatrick’s latest book is MMR and Autism: What Parents Need to Know.
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In the 1972 presidential election, Nixon trounced the anti-war McGovern so badly that McGovern took only one state. When the Watergate scandal ensued, eventually implicating Nixon himself, a bumper sticker read: ‘Don’t blame me. I’m from Massachusetts.’
Massachusetts – the Massachusetts that lost so many lives in the 9/11 attacks – took such a beating from Bush in this year’s pre-election debates (Bush-style debating being nearly all ad hominem) that one must conclude a major consequence of Bush’s re-election will be a continuation of the politics of division. Dissent and disagreement, no. The administration has radically challenged customary civil liberties and threatened freedom of expression. The politics of division, yes.
A remarkably large number of Americans voted for Kerry, delivering a clarion call for change. Voters questioned an administration that has once again mired us in an unpopular and possibly unwinnable war, sanctioned job outsourcing through its support of multinational corporations, delivered unprecedented tax cuts to the wealthy, departed radically from our traditions of multilateral diplomacy and wartime cooperation, rolled back hard-won laws and policies in realms such as the environment and nuclear proliferation, and placed our basic civil liberties in peril. Bush’s reelection brings, at the very least, disappointment for roughly half of the polity. Every indication is that they will transform that disappointment into new energy for reform.
But any new reform thrust needs broader horizons than what was possible in campaign rhetoric. On the issues of war in Iraq, healthcare and jobs, the Kerry-Edwards ticket displayed greater humanity and gravitas, while the Bush-Cheney campaign hid the complexities of these issues beneath a veil of simplistic moralism. Many voters seem to have voted for Bush on the moral issues of abortion and stem-cell research, issues which Kerry in turn simplified. Bush’s ‘culture of life’ argument is important and compelling, so much so that Americans would be much better off indeed if his policies did not so often seem to run counter to such a notion. It is precisely this call for humanity, after all, that drove so many Kerry supporters to question the Iraq war.
A Kerry win would not have solved the agonising problems we face, but at the very least it would have registered many Americans’ alarm about the current path we are on regarding so many different realms. One of the best things to come out of this election – if indeed it does – is that it is now apparent to more people that Bush and the far-right hardly have the monopoly on morality they claim to have. The Kerry-Edwards campaign began a long overdue process of reclaiming moral ground for democrats, without which their vision has faltered in recent years. A reinvigorated and reengaged Democratic Party is vital for our polity.
Discussions of the current polarisation in the nation nearly always blame partisanship. At its best, however, the nation cannot just withstand sharp left-right disagreement, as it showed in this campaign, but also benefit from them. No one political party or group can escape the confines of its worldview to give us the answers we need to vexing public issues or the larger vision we achieve at our best as citizens. Unity comes not from coerced uniformity or pressured consent, nor will it somehow spring naturally forth from repeated whines about partisanship. It is based, in a free and open society, on open dissent, lively engagement, and civil attempts to persuade. What we seem to lack the most in these trying times is that rare sensibility that combines openness to new evidence and persuasion with gentle firmness on matters of shared principle. In the social and cultural upheavals of the twentieth century, we have somewhere lost sight of our public philosophy – or perhaps we never did have it clearly enough in focus.
The effect of the current election could well be further division in the country. If we are not careful, we will need a new bumper on our vehicles, one that wraps around the whole body of the car. This may soon be necessary both to protect us from ourselves and to accommodate a new bumper sticker: ‘Don’t blame me. I’m from Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Washington, Oregon, California, Hawaii, or the District of Columbia.’
Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn is associate professor of history at Syracuse University and author of Race Experts: How Racial Etiquette, Sensitivity Training and New Age Therapy Hijacked the Civil Rights Revolution.
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One thing that is being overlooked in all the typical post-game over-interpretation of what was in many ways a largely random outcome: If the unemployment rate in Ohio had been two points worse, and/or if John Kerry possessed more charisma than the average toaster oven, Kerry would have been elected despite losing the popular vote by three and half million ballots. A margin of 65,000 Ohio votes, when compared to the 120,000,000 that were cast in the election as a whole, is essentially nothing – and that’s all you would have to flip to change the outcome. And the problems with America’s antiquated electoral college system are just going to get worse, as campaigns become more sophisticated about figuring out how to capture the marginal votes that make all the difference in such a system.
The gay rights issue is a gold mine for politicians like Bush, and will become even more of one if America’s federal courts start ‘discovering’ same-sex constitutional rights, as they did in regard to abortion. Republican politicians can posture endlessly about abortion, because they know nothing they do will actually lead to any serious curtailment of abortion rights, so they never have to pay the political price for their (purely theoretical) opposition. A similar dynamic is likely to play out in the context of gay rights.
John Edwards has a better chance of being the next Democratic nominee than Hillary Clinton. Edwards is basically Bush in Democratic drag, and it’s become obvious that at present the ideal presidential candidate is a moderate, telegenic Southerner. Or, in Bush’s case, a pseudo-moderate, telegenic pseudo-Southerner. As for Hillary, I find it hard to believe that the Democrats will nominate another Ivy League liberal any time soon.
Paul Campos is professor of law at the University of Colorado and author of The Obesity Myth: Why America’s Obsession With Weight is Hazardous to Your Health.
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An interesting election for number watchers! First and foremost, the pollsters emerge with egg on their faces, yet again. Not only was the result not the knife-edge that had the lawyers drooling over dreams of even fatter fees, the exit polls were allocating victory to the wrong candidate. When will they (or, more importantly, their customers) learn? People do not necessarily tell the truth to surveyors, and a distinguishable subset, such as early voters, are not representative of the whole population.
Pathetic attempts at intervention by some Brits also foundered. The Lancet (how are the mighty fallen) weighed in with a typical bit of extreme epidemiology. From a non-result (RR = 1.5, 95% CI 1.1-2.3) they performed a direct extrapolation to produce a virtual body count of 100,000 in Iraq – totally unjustifiable, but they did not have to undergo an election to prove them wrong. The Guardianistas launched a direct appeal to individual electors in Clark County. Only they could have the arrogant gall to think that such action could produce anything but a determination to do exactly the opposite.
Another group that foundered were the omen watchers. The Times (London) reminded us of a few of the old favourites: ‘Since 1936, the result of the Washington Redskins’ last home game before a presidential election had been a guide to the result. If the Redskins won, so, too, did the president; if they lost, the president lost as well. Last week, the Redskins lost 28-14 to the Green Bay Packers…. Before yesterday no president who won his first election with a minority of the popular vote had ever been re-elected. No incumbent had won a second term when the Dow Jones fell by more than 0.5 per cent in the previous October. A president whose father also held the post had never won a second term.’
As to the future, a victory for conservative Christianity over liberal eco-theology should lead to interesting times. Now that Vladimir Putin has cynically signed up to the Kyoto economic suicide pact, in the full knowledge that it is scientifically unsupportable and as a result of crude horse-trading with the EU, the US economy will be granted a considerable advantage over its rivals. Mind you, it will need every bit of it in the light of the debt and deficit policies of the recent past.
John Brignell edits the NumberWatch website and is author of The Epidemiologists: Have They Got Scares For You.
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